• Time and Pet Grooming Products

    By Barbara Bird
    Originally written June 2009 for her GroomWise.com Blog, and now archived here in Resources. Barbara's web site is www.bbird.biz. Please visit her site today.
    Copyright 2011 Barbara Bird All rights reserved

    I enjoy reading groomers’ descriptions of their bathing rituals, what products they use, the sequence they employ, and how long they let various products “set up” on the coat or skin. These descriptions are shared in the sincere belief that the ritual and timing is as important to the result as the products themselves. Although I honor the value of ritual in giving us confidence in our results, some of these rituals are based on myth and fiction. Today we will look at some facts in the relationship between time and use of pet grooming products.


    MYTH: Leaving a regular shampoo on longer will yield better cleaning.

    FACT: The action of cleansing surfactants is instant.

    FACT: Movement of the cleansing surfactant through the coat is more important to better cleaning than is additional contact time.

    FACT: The possibility of skin irritation from the shampoo detergents (contact dermatitis) is increased with increased contact time. Some detergent cleansing ingredients, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, that have been removed from many human bubble bath products, because of a high incidence of contact dermatitis following soaking in the products. These same ingredients are used in many pet shampoos.

    FACT: Mechanical action, scrubbing or massaging product through the coat by hand or water pressure through a bathing system, is more important to thorough cleaning than increased contact time.


    FACT: Most antibacterial and antifungal agents require 5-10 minutes of contact time with the skin to be effective. It is important to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label.

    MYTH: Leaving a medicated shampoo on longer will give better results. Not true, although leaving it on less may compromise the desired results. Leaving a medicated product on longer may risk skin irritation from the detergent ingredients.


    A very basic generalization is that agents that require penetration of the skin or hair cuticle need time to do this. Penetration is never instant. Conditioning ingredients that have been made cationic and simply attach to the hair surface, can do so quickly without set up time. Most conditioning agents are of this type. The best indication of what type of ingredients are in a conditioner are the instructions on the label. If the label says to leave the product on for 2-5 minutes (or more, as in a remoisturizer), it means that it requires that time for full effect. If the label does not suggest a time frame, most likely the product acts quickly.

    Another way to tell if conditioning ingredients are cationic is to look for the suffix –onium. This means that the ingredient has been “quaternized” or made cationic. This clue, of course, only works for products where the manufacturer discloses ingredients.

    CONCLUSION: Many conditioning agents, especially more sophisticated ingredients, act instantly and do not require long “set up” time. Old-fashioned ingredients, and many less chemically sophisticated agents require time to work. For many regular conditioners, there is no benefit from greater contact time than is suggested on the label.


    Texturizing is usually accomplished either by adding stiffening ingredients, or omitting ingredients that soften the coat. Texturizing products do not usually require extended contact time. Bodifiers may require penetration of the hair cuticle. An example of a bodifier that needs a few minutes of extra contact time would be Chris Christensen Thick N’ Thicker Foaming Protein. Spray-on products usually have instant effect. Again, the manufacturers instructions are your best clue. The best practice is to use a timer to be accurate in your set-up time.


    Flea and tick products almost always require a few minutes of contact to be effective, especially the more natural ingredients. Leaving products on for longer than the manufacturer’s instructions, however, can lead to irritation or even toxicity. Putting pesticidal or medicated products on pets and leaving them sit in a cage while the groomer does other things risks overexposure to either the active ingredients or the detergent surfactants.


    This is another group of products that requires careful timing and care in use. It is important to use color enhancing shampoos on thoroughly wet coat unless otherwise instructed, and for only the recommended contact time. If too much pigment is deposited under the hair cuticle lens, you will have a dye job instead of color enhancement.

    There are very few products where lengthy contact time has better effects. In terms of shampoos, extended contact beyond that recommended on the label may risk contact dermatitis or toxicity. Color enhancing ingredients, bodifiers, and some deep conditioning ingredients may benefit from extended contact, but many ordinary shampoos and conditioners work very quickly and extra “set-up” time is wasted. Anionic cleansing surfactants and cationic conditioning ingredients work instantly, like magnets, and thorough application is more beneficial than more contact time. Always read and follow the instructions on the label. And remember, time equals money.